‘On paper’ is a saying in sports writing which carries a little red flag. It means the team contains an intangible mitigating factor that limits confidence in their ability to execute. Yet, such a phrase is never considered in the realms of hype.
Situations like that of the Cleveland Browns last Sunday are borne of this dissonance. It was hard to argue against their playoff hopes because the team looks excellent – on paper. Issues of chemistry, egos, and inexperience sat in the background, deeply nested in the shadows of doubt. A fan base that has experienced so much loss considered negative thoughts as apostasy to their new Gods, Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham and co.
Then Sunday happened.
The legend of the Greek gods fighting the Titans was dispelled with aplomb in FirstEnergy Stadium. The Tennessee Titans dismantled the Browns in every aspect except for the punting game. Mayfield was sacked five times (once for a safety) and threw three interceptions. Beckham caught seven passes on eleven targets for 71 yards. The Browns conceded 18 penalties for 182 yards losing by 30 in front of a deflated crowd.
Mayfield takes the blame
Who is to blame? There must be a scapegoat to sacrifice for next Monday. Mayfield put the offensive penalties and woes upon himself. “Any time you get something going and shoot yourself in the foot, that was our big problem today” he said in his post-game press conference. “Not being able to build on positive plays, and like I preached last week trying to eliminate the negative ones. That’s exactly the opposite of what we did today, and that falls back on me”.
This is typical behaviour of a quarterback following a poor display on offence. His first interception came from throwing to Beckham while three Titans converged on him. The second came from trying too hard to throw to Jarvis Landry while Logan Ryan was right beside him. The last was from throwing behind Landry and into Malcolm Butler’s hands.
Win As A Team, Lose As A Team
However Mayfield isn’t completely to blame. Beckham gave up a pass interference penalty. Chris Hubbard and Demetrius Harris earned two holding penalties each. Greg Robinson also had two penalties and was ejected for kicking Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro in the head. His disqualification meant a makeshift offensive line struggled to protect Mayfield. Robinson’s replacement Kendall Lamm also got injured, further distressing harmony on the line as Mayfield was pressured into quick passes. All three of his interceptions took place after Robinson’s ejection.
The defence gave up 34 points. Myles Garrett generated two sacks, but a fearsome defence on paper were unable to stop Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry from carving them up. They allowed 17.7 yards per completed pass and 4.4 yards per run. Henry scored a 75-yard touchdown from a screen pass. Tennessee scored 21 points in 8:07 in the second half between Mayfield’s first two interceptions. You couldn’t expect Mayfield to keep up with the production allowed by his defence.
Mayfield will bear the brunt of the Browns’ woes though. He expected this. His brash personality, confident – or some would say arrogant – offseason talk, and crucial role mean that ultimately the team’s failings fall back on him. The Browns have an ideal chance to recover on Monday night against a New York Jets side missing Sam Darnold and Quincy Enunwa. C.J. Mosley and Quinnen Williams are also questionable to play. One good win away from home will reinvigorate Cleveland and build up the broken hype once again. It is a must-win game from the Browns with a tough upcoming schedule. They face the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Ravens, San Fransisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and New England Patriots in their four games after meeting the Jets. A loss on Monday, and Cleveland’s new gods will be facing a herculean task just to remain relevant by the halfway point of the season.